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Is a Stepparent Liable for Child Support?

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

A stepparent will generally not be required to pay child support for a spouse's children from a prior relationship. Courts usually will not even consider how much a stepparent earns. However, depending on the specific facts of a case, a stepparent's income can still make a significant difference in the amount of support that must be paid for a biological parent.

As a preliminary matter, because child support is usually based on a percentage of a parent's net income, after getting married, a parent's net income may increase due to tax benefits. Other factors, such as a decrease in the cost of living for a remarried spouse, can also be factored in by a court to reduce a child support award. In the end, while a stepparent usually cannot be forced to pay, or have their wages garnished, if their spouse is paying child support, they are paying too, even if they're not legally liable.

Supporting a Spouse's Child

Every state recognizes the injustice in requiring a stepparent to pay child support for stepchildren. Only when a stepparent adopts their stepchildren will they be personally liable for child support. However, typically, for a stepparent to adopt, the other parent (not their spouse) will have to terminate their parental rights.

Although a stepparent's income is typically excluded from calculating a child support award, the biological spouse's half of community property or their share of marital assets, or marital income from a jointly owned business, can be used to pay court-ordered child support.

Interestingly, the ramifications of the biological parent filing their taxes as a married person can work to increase, or decrease, child support liability. In one particularly odd situation, a stepparent can cause a biological parent to fall into a higher tax bracket, while not having an increase in income, thereby forcing the other party to pay more child support.

If My Ex Remarries, Do I Still Have to Pay Child Support?

Unlike spousal support, or alimony, child support does not terminate when one, both, or either, parent remarries. Although a new marriage might provide the necessary change in circumstances to modify an existing child support order.

What Happens After Stepparent Divorces?

Generally, after a parent and stepparent divorce, there will be no legal obligation to provide child support, unless an adoption occurred. However, spousal support, or alimony, can still be awarded.

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